St. Croix Educational Complex graduates 249

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ST. CROIX - The 2014 high school graduation season on St. Croix culminated in grand fashion on Thursday night when Educational Complex graduated 249 students in front of a massive crowd of family, friends and well-wishers at Island Center.

Dubbed the "Unprecedented Class of 2014," the graduates were praised by Principal Willard John for their resilience during the last three months as Educational Complex played host to rival Central High School, which was forced to temporarily close its doors in March because of a noxious odor from the school's wastewater and storm drain system that sickened students.

In one of the evening's liveliest speeches, valedictorian Narendra Balkaran, 18, garnered loud cheers and brought the large graduating class to its feet with funny anecdotes of their four years of high school, his own experiences of moving to St. Croix as a young child and good-natured teasing of his classmates and family members seated before him.

This was all done in a distinctively Trinidadian accent, which the crowd seemed to love.

After his family migrated from Trinidad, Narendra found himself being bullied and becoming overweight.

It was the bullying, he said, that helped him develop a strong sense of self. Soon, he began making lifestyle changes, and within a matter of years, the once shy, overweight kid had become an outgoing star athlete.

"While growing up, I had very low self-confidence," Narendra explained. "After taking several steps in life, I have discovered who I am and who I want to be."

The teen went on to say his parents inspired him to succeed.

"They have worked so hard in life. They have shown me that anything is possible," he said. "The love, care and respect they have given to me have motivated me to reach high stages in life. They are one of my reasons for success."

To reach this milestone, Narendra said paying "very close attention in class" and taking good notes helped him to succeed. He said his plan is to "stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize," further encouraging his classmates to "learn from both winning and losing, and that will make someone a successful person in life."

Salutatorian Orchydia Sackey, 17, is as determined as she is studious.

At the beginning of her junior year, she was ranked No. 7 in the class but was not satisfied with staying there.

"I decided that I could do better and set up the goal of making it in the top five," she said. "There were numerous times that I contemplated giving up and settling for less, but I persevered. By the beginning of my senior year, my class rank was 2."

After seeing her own perseverance, Orchydia said she has "faith that I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

Orchydia also credits her speech teacher, Sayeeda Carter, for a successful senior year.

"She gave me the confidence necessary to excel in public speaking and always extended an open door to me," she said. "Her positive and open outlook on everything makes her an inspiration to me and many other students."

Narendra offered some words of wisdom to the rising seniors. "It doesn't matter if you are No. 1 or No. 25. What matters is if you gave it your best shot," he said. "Aim for nothing but the best and in the end, you will receive success."

In the fall, Narendra will attend Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where he will major in petroleum engineering. He has received a $64,000 scholarship from the college.

Orchydia will attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she will major in management. She has received numerous scholarships.

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